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Tenderizing meat is all about the intent of the cook. It begins with the type of dish you’re making—is it a seared steak, pork schnitzel, or a Chicken Milanese? What is the cooking method—sauté, stew, or shallow fry? Which type or cut of meat are you using—pork, beef, chicken, or venison? No matter the choice, if you’re working with a lean or tough cut of meat, you’ll be glad you tenderized it beforehand.
Why tenderize? According to Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking,” the most direct way to tenderize tougher and leaner cuts of meat is “to fragment the muscle fibers and connective-tissue sheets by pounding, cutting, or grinding”—and the meat tenderizers I picked out work by using the first two methods.
While both of these methods tenderize the meat and allow for a marinade to be incorporated, a mallet or pounder-style tenderizer will perform double duty, changing the thickness of the meat. A blade or needle-style tenderizer, on the other hand, keep the thickness of the meat intact.
Here’s my list of the best meat tenderizers to help you determine the one that best suits how you intend to cook.
Best Overall: Chef-Master Meat Tenderizer
What We Love: Base offers stability during use, ergonomic handle
What We Don't Love: Costly, strength of plastic housing may diminish in dishwasher
“Select cuts of steak are less expensive, and tenderizing gives them a lot of tender flavor and a variety of ways to serve them,” says Ken Stoysich, a butcher and the owner of Stoysich House of Sausage. And if you consider some of the most common cooking habits (e.g., dishes, techniques, cuts of meat), a blade-style tenderizer over a mallet or pounder-style tenderizer will be your best bet. Specifically, the Chef-Master Meat Tenderizer takes the top spot.
This tool provides the home cook with a product that is safe in its top-handle design and has an efficient area of use from a 24-square inch base. Where the use of this blade-style tenderizer also shines is helping you to save money when shopping for beef—with this tool, you can buy Select cuts, which are leaner and sometimes tougher than Choice or Prime cuts, and are often more cost-effective.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.5 x 3 x 11 inches | Weight: 1.25 pounds | Dishwasher-safe? Yes (top rack, hand washing recommended)
Best Budget: Winco Aluminum 2-Sided Meat Tenderizer
What We Love: Sturdy cast-aluminum construction, comes with hanging hole, inexpensive
What We Don’t Love: Not dishwasher-safe
Do not equate this Winco tenderizer's inexpensive cost with its being ineffective. The tool's durable aluminum construction is a draw because it makes handling the tenderizer easy. It will also likely survive a lifetime in a drawer with other kitchen equipment. Plus, it’s relatively heavy compared with most mallets, meaning you won’t have to exert as much effort to flatten your meat.
You can be assured it will do the job and do it well: “[It's] the professional choice of particular chefs,” says Mekaela Churchich of Churchich Restaurant Equipment.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 10.5 x 3 x 3 inches | Weight: 1 pound | Dishwasher-safe? No
Best Roller: Jim Beam JB0150 Rolling Vintage Style Meat Tenderizer
What We Love: Ergonomic handle, inexpensive
What We Don’t Love: No safety guard
Lest you know it only for its renowned whiskey, Jim Beam also makes this roller meat tenderizer (maybe you’ll decide to marinate your steak in whiskey). Whereas a mallet or hammer may break down and flatten the meat, this roller allows for much lighter pressure to be applied to the meat. The ergonomic parawood handle, as opposed to the handle of a typical mallet or hammer, might be easier to maneuver for some users.
Users also praise how sturdily constructed this tenderizer is, as well as how well it helps spices and seasonings spread more evenly throughout the meat.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 6 x 12.5 x 19 inches | Weight: 0.75 pounds | Dishwasher-safe? Yes (hand washing recommended)
Related: The Best Steak Knives
Best Mallet: OXO Good Grips Die Cast Meat Tenderizer
What We Love: Soft and comfortable handle, balanced design
What We Don’t Love: Not dishwasher-safe
Whether you’re using a mallet tenderizer for a couple of pork chops or for prepping a meal for a dinner party, a good handle is paramount. For starters, this mallet's handle is soft, which cushions the repeated impact of pounding. But it’s also made of non-slip material, meaning you’ll be able to use it efficiently, even with wet or oily hands.
Furthermore, this mallet doesn’t weigh a lot, but its balance and leverage (the weight in its head is slightly offset), make it easier to control for more efficient use. The head has both a side textured with pyramid-shaped teeth (ideal for tenderizing) and a flat side that makes quick work of pounding and flattening your meat or poultry.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 9.75 x 1.9 x 2.4 inches | Weight: 0.5 pounds | Dishwasher-safe? No
Best Vertical-Handle Pounder: Norpro Grip-EZ Reversible Tenderizer/Pounder
What We Love: Ergonomic handle, heavy
What We Don’t Love: Costly, not recommended for the dishwasher
The concentration of weight of this tenderizer-pounder combo makes for an exceptional economy of effort. Its heavier weight generates a good deal of force, making the work of tenderizing and flattening your chicken or veal cutlets much easier for you.
What else makes it easier for you? The non-slip and ergonomic grip, so you can pound and tenderize safely and comfortably. Plus, many reviewers like that the head (which is reversible) has a sizable surface area, so you can get to more of your meat at once.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 5.75 X 3.25 X 3.25 inches | Weight: 1.5 pounds | Dishwasher-safe? No
Related: The Best Cast Iron Skillets
Most Ergonomic: MERCIER Professional Needle Meat Tenderizer
What We Love: Ergonomic design, dishwasher-safe, safety locking mechanism
What We Don’t Love: May be tricky to clean, palm handle isn’t nonslip
This tenderizing needle is compact and fits well in the palm of your hand. Particular aspects of cooking can be obstacles, such as heavy pans or repetitive motions, so a tool might be just the thing to bring more enjoyment to your cooking. This tool is also not bulky, which is perfect if you don’t have much room in your kitchen drawers.
This tool comes with 56 needles, whereas most other needle meat tenderizers typically have 48. It does a great job of tenderizing cheaper cuts of steak and pork cutlets, as well as allowing marinade to seep through meats more thoroughly, according to several users. Its low-profile design also features a safety locking mechanism to protect the blades and your fingers.
But on that note, the needles are very sharp, according to several reviewers, so make sure—if you’re hand washing the tool—to use the cleaning brush included and take care when handling and cleaning it.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 5.75 x 3.25 x 3.25 inches | Weight: 8.4 ounces | Dishwasher-safe? Yes
Related: The Best Frying Pans
A large surface area as well as an ergonomic and safe top-handle design makes the Chef-Master Meat Tenderizer my top pick for the everyday cook (view at Amazon). If a pounder-style tenderizer better fits your cooking needs, the Norpro GRIP-EZ Tenderizer/Pounder (view at Amazon) will give you a heavy yet ergonomic and versatile tool.
What to Look for in a Meat Tenderizer
How you plan to cook will help answer which tenderizer will be most useful and effective for you, whether you need more of a pounding, tenderizing, or flattening feature (or any combination of those). Look for a tool that you can easily maintain control of while in use, either by testing the balance of weight, the heaviness, or the comfort and non-slip quality of the grip.
Ensure that the handle or grip is non-slip and there is stability while using it, particularly when your hands are wet or have oil or food residue on them. Also, pay attention to the blades and sharp edges during using, cleaning, and storing.
Ease of Cleaning
If your meat tenderizer is made from aluminum, I recommend washing it it by hand instead of the dishwasher. Ensure that you’re able to wash the blades or any other parts of the tool both thoroughly and safely.
How do I use a meat tenderizer?
- For all types of tenderizers: Secure a cutting board on a work surface. Ensure coverage of the entire side of meat. Turn the meat over and repeat the steps.
- If using a blade or needle tenderizer: Starting at an edge of the meat, press the handle down and into the meat.
- If using a mallet or pounder: Hold an edge of the meat and gently strike the meat until it is the desired thickness, according to your recipe.
- If using a roller: Start at an edge of the meat and roll and apply pressure across the surface of the meat.
Can I use a meat tenderizer on chicken?
Yes. Because chicken is quite lean, when coupled with a marinade and a tenderizer it becomes an ideal means to be creative and offer variety to your meals.
Are there other ways to tenderize meat?
According to McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”: “The acid in marinades does weaken muscle tissue and increase its ability to retain moisture.” And a good marinade will never bring you—or your meat—no harm.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Bryce Coulton is a recipe developer and culinary instructor who uses his background in restaurants to specialize in butchery and charcuterie. He recently converted a wine fridge to cure salami at home and is growing Calabrian peperoncini to make ‘nduja because … why not?
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